St-Laurent Boulevard was transformed this past week as artists from around the world flocked to one of Montreal’s busiest districts, and brought works of beauty to more than twenty building facades that were once littered with graffiti tags or fading murals from before. Artists from more than seven countries were in attendance at the first MURAL festival (June 13-16), bringing to life everything from creepy cartoon characters (Paria Crew) to Dali-styled surrealism (Phlegm), and ghostly faces (Omen) that spanned the entire wall of a two-story building. It was an impressive sight to watch so many vivid colours brighten the city.
In support of this four day event, local restaurants and shops set up small tents to sell everything from multi-ethnic food and designer clothing, to yoga, massages and even carnival games. It was a time when whole families could enjoy the festivities as “graffers” took back some of the once defaced properties, and brought an infusion of culture that will be appreciated for years to come. These four days may have been the first MURAL festival for Montreal, but organizers affirmed that its success would be repeated annually.
One of the Montreal-based groups, Paria Crew, assembled their scaffolding in front of a brick wall canvas at the corner of St-Laurent and Duluth. They filled it with alien creatures and exotic animals each with wide-eyed faces in an exaggerated state of shock. When asked about the meaning behind the piece, the artist Zema explained, “The creepy cartoon characters remind me of the city and St-Laurent.” She described the hard work and dedication all the artists had put into their contributions while still working their day jobs. “I’m so tired from making tattoo sketches, and finishing the other art show, but now we get to really paint because a wall is the only place where I feel really free. No restrictions.”
Another of Montreal’s “graffer” groups, A’Shop, was stationed by a tall building at the corner of St-Laurent and Ave. des Pins. The mural incorporates the building’s existing windows and other features into the piece, showing St-Laurent in deep purples with bubbles for clouds and an elderly woman focused in the centre. One of the A’Shop artists explained, “We wanted to have an old lady to represent the old school graffers that have been graffing here since the seventies and eighties.”
For hours on end, these groups tirelessly worked on their walls. Their passion and dedication was evident as they rolled primer over every tiny mistake, sprayed until they were shaking their hands from the strain, and squinting in the dark as they raced against the impending threat of another rainy day.
Aside from the art that would add to the city’s look well into the future, the festival orchestrated numerous expositions where the participating artists had their smaller works on display and for sale. The Vernissage Officiel alone held pieces from many of the participants, including local artist Chris Dryer with one work priced at $10,000. His painting “Need” shared the same theme as his mural “Positive” available to the public on Rue Saint-Dominique between Sherbrooke and Prince Arthur.
When the sun set each day and the painters could barely see what they were doing, the festival threw parties from the Empty Can on Friday to the Indecent Xposure soirée on Saturday. There was something for everybody at this event, and there were more than enough smiles to go around.
By the end of it all, buildings had been cleaned up using beautiful art, the citizens of Montreal were able to enjoy a plethora of activities, and the local businesses of St-Laurent benefited from an increase in revenue.
It’s a wonderful thing to watch a community come together in order to enrich the lives of their neighbours. The spirit of the city came alive this past week, and the MURAL festival earns a lot of the credit.